3. Paris, 1889–92
Source: Oxford University Press
Although Munch had briefly visited exhibitions in Antwerp and Paris in 1885, the Exposition Universelle of 1889 and associated art exhibitions provided extensive experience of contemporary painting for him on his arrival in Paris. Almost immediately, however, he entered a period of debilitating depression and grief after being informed that his father had died suddenly. He was unable to paint and isolated himself in a room in Saint-Cloud, where he jotted down recollections of his father and of his affair with ‘Mrs Heiberg’ and engaged in ruminations on art, love, death and immortality with the equally disillusioned Danish poet Emanuel Goldstein. The combination of his grieving process and Goldstein’s discovery of French Decadent and Symbolist poetry caused Munch to reform his own views on art, so that he rejected the Naturalism of the Kristiania Bohème for a more subjective form of Symbolism conjoined with his monist views of a pantheistic life-force inherent in all matter, forbidding death in a process of material transformation. The transmission of life in sexual intercourse was a primary principle in Munch’s new-found pseudo-scientific faith, and in projects for its depiction he formulated the transformed purpose of his art (Munch, 1929, p. 17): A strong naked arm—a tanned powerful neck—a young woman rests her head on the arching chest…. These two in that moment when they are not themselves, but only one of thousands of sexual links tying one generation to another generation. People should understand the sanctity, the grandeur of it, and would take off their hats as if in a church. I would make a number of such paintings. No longer would interiors, people who read and women who knit, be painted.
The conversion of emotions into works of art culminated during the spring of 1890 in two paintings, Night (Oslo, N.G.) and Spring Day on Karl Johan Street (Bergen, Billedgal.), both adapting principles of Neo-Impressionism to subjective images representing, respectively, death and grief on the one hand and life and joy on the other: the one as a scene tinged in blue, depicting a lone figure seated in a dark interior while a window permits a view on to a nocturnal winter cityscape, the other a springtime view of Kristiania’s main thoroughfare with groups of people promenading in bright sunshine. In 1891 he used similar variations on Neo-Impressionist technique, depicting scenes of city life, as in Rue Lafayette (Oslo, N.G.), in order to project his emotional response to contemporary urban existence. Late in the year, however, he began to assimilate aspects of Synthetism, largely based on his experience of works by the Scandinavian followers of Paul Gauguin, such as Jens F. Willumsen and Ivan Aguéli, into his artistic vocabulary, most notably in his drawings of 1891–2 for a collection of Goldstein’s poetry, Alruner (‘Mandrake’), and in the mixed-media painting Melancholy (Oslo, Munch-Mus.), which is derived from the drawings. In these works, as well as in the drawings intended for publication along with (but not directly illustrating) the poems of the Norwegian poets Sigbjørn Obstfelder and Vilhelm Krag, and in his initial paintings of a Kiss (1892; Oslo, N.G.) and Despair (1892; Stockholm, Thielska Gal.), Munch outlined a range of emotional subject-matter that he was to work on again and again and that here formed the foundation of a series of paintings he grouped together under the title Love.
From Grove Art Online